The Singing Stones 9781783198658, 9781783198641

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The Singing Stones
 9781783198658, 9781783198641

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THE SINGING STONES A TRIAD OF THREE PLAYS

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THE SINGING STONES A TRIAD OF THREE PLAYS Written by Kay Adshead

OBERON BOOKS LONDON WWW.OBERONBOOKS.COM

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First published in 2015 by Oberon Books Ltd 521 Caledonian Road, London N7 9RH Tel: +44 (0) 20 7607 3637 / Fax: +44 (0) 20 7607 3629 e-mail: [email protected] www.oberonbooks.com Copyright © Kay Adshead, 2015 Kay Adshead is hereby identified as author of this play in accordance with section 77 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. The author has asserted his moral rights. All rights whatsoever in this play are strictly reserved and application for performance etc. should be made before commencement of rehearsal to United Agents, 12-26 Lexington Street, W1F 0LE ([email protected]). No performance may be given unless a licence has been obtained, and no alterations may be made in the title or the text of the play without the author’s prior written consent. You may not copy, store, distribute, transmit, reproduce or otherwise make available this publication (or any part of it) in any form, or binding or by any means (print, electronic, digital, optical, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior written permission of the publisher. Any person who does any

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unauthorized act in relation to this publication may be liable to criminal prosecution and civil claims for damages. A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library. PB ISBN: 978-1-78319-864-1 EPUB ISBN: 978-1-78319-865-8 Cover design by Shanaz Gulzar Printed, bound and converted by CPI Group (UK) Ltd, Croydon, CR0 4YY. Visit www.oberonbooks.com to read more about all our books and to buy them. You will also find features, author interviews and news of any author events, and you can sign up for e-newsletters so that you’re always first to hear about our new releases.

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Contents Acknowledgements Characters Play One: Stones Play Two: The Women’s Spring Scene 1 – Egypt Scene 2 – Tunisia Scene 3 – Libya Scene 4 – Syria Scene 5 – A Border Somewhere Scene 6 – Camberwell Play Three: The Singing Stones

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Acknowledgements MAMA Quilla wishes to thank: Arts Council England The Royal Victoria Hall Foundation Peggy Ramsay Foundation Unity Theatre Trust Bradford LA Theatre in the Mill Bradford Z Arts The Hub Leeds Group 64 Trinity Centre Dalston Ann Akin and Kumi Vis Pete Morris, Mike Leigh, Peter Carr, Nathan Carr, Pam Craig, Pauline Moran, Robert G Allison

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and all our crowdfunding supporters

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The Singing Stones was first performed at the Arcola Theatre on 4 February 2015 with the following cast: Cast Arinda Alexander-Kaur Alia Alzougbi Sarah Auber Tina Gray Rhiannon James Jody Jameson Rus Kallan Eugenia Low Vivienne Rochester Creative Director

Kay Adshead

Visual Artist

Shanaz Gulzar

Music Composition

Najma Akhtar

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Physical Theatre Director Mark Civil Lighting Designer

Richard Hillier

Sound Designer

Simon McCabe

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Characters Play One – Stones ALIA

Play Two – The Women’s Spring Scene 1, Egypt AMISI, ARSHIYA, HASINA, MAN, MRS GANAM NABILA, RU’YAH

OLD

WOMAN,

SABEEN,

Scene 2, Tunisia NOUR, MARIEM, POPPY, LINA, STEVE SARAH, ROSE, VERA, RU’YAH Scene 3, Libya WISS, GRANDMA, FARAH SARAH, ENASS, KATCHI, RU’YAH Scene 4, Syria ALIA, SAYID, DRIVER, NATALIA, OLA SARAH, RANIM, LILIANE, RU’YAH

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SARAH,

Scene 5, A Border Somewhere SHINE, POPPY, JOHN, SHANAR TRIFA, SARAH, KEJAL, RU’YAH Scene 6, Camberwell GAIA, MEGAN, SERENA, BLESSING BEN, NOON, ALIA, SHAZ, SARAH Play Three – The Singing Stones FULL COMPANY NARRATE

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PLAY ONE STONES Written by Kay Adshead with (and for) Alia Alzougbi Countless Syrian artists have been tortured and killed for using their art as a weapon for peaceful protest. Masasit Mati is a group of dissident Syrian artists from different disciplines who came together to make puppet shows mocking the Assad regime. ALIA

is not a member of this troupe.

This story is less harrowing than many of the real life testimonies of the artists detained and tortured. Our company of nine actors on stage facilitate play, Stones.

ALIA’s

Audience enter to jolly light show projection of the Syrian hands up campaign in lots of different colours. Perhaps the hands light up in sync to music from dub band Syrian bear. Intermittent cheery graphic slogans about the artist and revolution.

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On the ground is a wild haired edgy young woman in doc martens, ripped black tights, shorts and billowing blouse with printed red lace pattern. Although sometimes she watches the audience come in, she concentrates on making the three finger puppets seated in a little wooden plane. Lights to black. Projection on floor – Play One Stones ‘increasingly in these turbulent times, so-called artists have crawled out from under their stones’. Lights up. ALIA’s

puppet show – a homage to Masasit Mati but its own thing. It is filmed and projected large and live into the space. In a toy wooden plane seated is ASSAD, his first minister and a big nosed comical looking pilot. Sound – airplane. ASSAD: IMAD:

Imad?

Yes, your distinguished importantness?

ASSAD:

If I were to throw 100 dollars out the plane. What do you think will happen?

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IMAD:

Oh, right yes…well one of your people will find it and will be very happy. ASSAD: IMAD:

Imad?

Yes, your big eminence?

ASSAD:

If I threw 10,000 out of the plane, what would happen? IMAD:

Oh, that’s easy. A family would find it and become very happy. ASSAD:

Imad, what if I threw out 100,000 dollars of the

plane? IMAD:

Oh, your unusually longish excellency, a village would find it and they would be very happy. PILOT:

Excellency… Excellency… I have a very good

idea. ASSAD:

Yes?

PILOT:

A very good idea indeed. Let’s throw you off the plane – that would make the whole country happy! (Pause.) ALIA:

And that’s what you call a punch line.

IMAD:

I hate jokes.

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ASSAD: IMAD:

That was a shit joke.

I agree your…

ASSAD:

I think anyone, anyone, telling that disrespectful and wholly shit joke should be… IMAD:

… Punished!

(Pause.) Sound – Street at night. produces a finger puppet of a veiled thuggish SHABIHA. It is filmed and projected. ALIA

SHABIHA: ALIA:

ALIA:

Yes, at night on your own?

To the market, I wanted to buy herring.

SHABIHA: ALIA:

So, where are you going young lady?

Where…?

SHABIHA:

Herring!

You think that’s fishy?

SHABIHA:

ALIA

Fishy, very fishy indeed…

(He cracks his stick.) You’re a student?

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and a

ALIA:

That’s right, but I have never sprayed anti-regime slogans on street walls or buildings, defaced or altered state posters, or stenciled images of our President with a little moustache using a pre-cut bottom of a paper bag. SHABIHA:

Good, good I am glad to hear this.

ALIA:

And also, I have not co-edited micro graphic novels depicting these troubled times and circulated them secretly amongst mainly female citizens. SHABIHA:

Excellent. Yes, excellent.

ALIA:

And I have most definitively never, never ever, filmed on my mobile phone the brutal beating, and indeed killing, of peaceful street protestors and secretly posted these short films on YouTube for wide public dissemination. SHABIHA:

Good! Very good young lady, very good indeed, I’m very glad to hear you have not done of these things. ALIA:

I thought you would be…

(Pause.) Could I have my little scraps back please…? My baby sister’s stuff? Don’t want to make her cry. Lights change – Projected in the space, original Top Goon film.

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ALIA,

in full view, dresses herself as the finger puppet of herself. Lights change – ALIA with the SHABIHA puppet. SHABIHA: ALIA:

So… What do you do there…?

Do…?

SHABIHA:

Yes, after dark after you leave the market! After you go up all those stairs,k after you draw the curtains? ALIA:

Well, we used to watch telly…

SHABIHA: ALIA:

We talk.

SHABIHA: ALIA:

What do you talk about?

(Shrugs.) Everything.

SHABIHA: ALIA:

Talk?

Yes, we talk and we drink tea.

SHABIHA: ALIA:

And now?

Do you talk about the situation here…?

No! No! Absolutely not. Never, we know better.

SHABIHA:

(Producing scraps of material.) What are these? (Producing tiny puppet head.) What is this?

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Lights change – Puppet film. Puppet ALIA is in a stone walled cell A puppet JAILER with a stick is beating ALIA. JAILER:

(Furious.) Let’s see you and your spotty young friends make your shit kids’ films now! Sound – a prison somewhere at night, screams, cries, someone, somewhere is being beaten. Lights change. is half crouched on the ground in what appears to be a small cage. Blood trickles from her mouth. ALIA

She has been there for some time. She is sweating, her breathing shallow, but she is alert. Suddenly she tries to stand, the cage is not big enough, she can only kneel. (Pause.) ALIA:

(A whisper.) BEN!

(Pause.) Painfully she reaches inside her veil and retrieves a small biro, hidden in her hair.

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She wipes her hands on her clothes to remove grease and blood. Slowly on her index finger on her right hand, with the biro, she draws two eyes, a nose and a mouth. This is BEN. She looks at the puppet. She laughs. She adds stubble, a T-shirt and trousers. She laughs defiantly, out loud – to be heard. She makes the puppet BEN cautiously look around. BEN:

I warned you.

ALIA:

Yes…you did.

(Pause.) Have you forgotten me? BEN:

Almost. Don’t cry. There are bigger tragedies in the world than yours. ALIA: BEN:

Are there?

Of course.

I just lied to you.

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ALIA: BEN:

Lied?

Yes.

You’re not forgotten. ALIA: BEN:

I’ve just forgotten whose side you’re on.

ALIA: BEN:

No?

Really?

And we’re sick of the lot of you, sick of it all.

The piles of ghastly young men sent home to their mothers bone and rotting flesh, their eyes staring or gouged. (Pause.) Do you know what I really miss? ALIA: BEN:

What?

A good old fashioned stoning.

ALIA:

You’re not funny.

BEN:

Remember a sunny Saturday morning Putney High St, trestle table and a petition? ALIA:

I remember.

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BEN:

Photocopies of a sweet faced thirteen-year-old girl.

ALIA: BEN:

Raped, sentenced to be stoned for…

ALIA: BEN:

Alia she was called, Alia same as me.

Adultery she was married.

I told you it was funny.

You marched off to the river, came back with a pile of muddy stones… ALIA:

(Softly.) Not so big they’d kill outright or so small they wouldn’t render significant injury, I remember picking them out, weighing them in my hand till they became warm. BEN:

You built a pyramid on the table with your baby fingers, and their bitten pink fingernails, being ever so careful. I love those baby fingers. ALIA: BEN:

Well, five people signed the petition.

ALIA: BEN:

You’ve grown hard.

I was there only for the beer.

ALIA: BEN:

Did we…? Was she, saved?

Now you’re lying.

The beer and the booty.

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ALIA: BEN:

You always get what you want.

It’s not just that we’ve forgotten you.

(Pause.) You scare us, no worse, I think we might even hate you. ALIA

is crying.

Some of BEN’s lines are spoken by the company. BEN:

(Softer, harder.) And you’re not helping.

Do you think you’re helping? It’s not even art. It won’t change anything. It’s not as if you’re feeding people, is it? Or stopping bombs being dropped, children being shot. You’re not getting them out of the camps. You’re not rebuilding their homes… Their cities… Their lives… I’m sorry.

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Someone’s got to tell you. (Pause.) I still love you. I’m waiting for you. It’s not as if you’re killing the bad guys. Lights change. Film of a puppet hand. A stone. Another different large puppet hand takes the stone, feels its weight. And in slow motion smashes the stone down onto the hand again and again into a bloody mess. Lights change – slowly up. ALIA’s

hands are bloody and broken.

She whispers. ALIA:

I’m by the sea on a wet sandy beach. I am five. My cousins are splashing and jumping over waves and laughing, quarrelling, crying. The babies are in an inflatable boat that uncle brought back from Damascus, a wooden mast flying a skull and crossbones flag. The grown-ups, my mum and dad, the

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aunties and uncles, have made a shelter in the long grass out of broom handles and white sheets and they are cooking on a barbecue made from a broken stove and sauce pans. I am between the sea and the long grass on the wide white beach. I am so small and light I leave barely a footprint. I am drawing with my finger in the sand, making great curving lines…drawing a cloud…or a huge fish… or just waves I don’t remember, joining up the stones, some white jagged rocks bedded deep together, other pink speckled pebbles, singular smooth and round. I am joining them up with my finger leaving a deep curving line in the soft white sand. Lights change. Najma’s song. Projected, hundreds of computer screens, protesting women. And the sound of the crowd is drowned. The crowd fade into unsettling ambient sounds.

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PLAY TWO THE WOMEN’S SPRING Written by Kay Adshead AMISI / ARSHIYA / HASINA / MAN / MRS GANAM / NABILA / OLD WOMAN / SABEEN / SARAH / RU’YAH SCENE 1 – EGYPT Projected on to the Floor – Play Two – The Women’s Spring – Scene 1 Egypt. In an informal meeting with the female protestors of Tahrir Square, the incoming President promised the women – a court of redress, to air their grievances. And he urged all his honorable brother leaders in the Arab world to do the same. MAN:

Hasina Massit?

HASINA: MAN:

Yes.

Welcome, kindly state your case.

(Taking a deep breath.) On March 9th 2011 at around 2 am. HASINA:

MAN:

Good. 26

HASINA:

Friends protesting outside the main gates of the museum, in the district of Midan Tahrir, were savagely beaten by the soldiers. NABILA:

Our brother,

(She gestures her sister.) HASINA:

Was struck with such ferocity on the back of his

head. NABILA:

He was blinded.

MAN:

(Softly.) Please, young ladies, don’t speak until your name is called out by the court. HASINA:

They were taken inside the museum. After several hours of waiting we went to ask for their release. NABILA:

And she spoke quietly…

(The MAN scrutinises her.) Forgive me. HASINA:

An officer…

NABILA:

a tall man, a heavy man, a brute.

MRS GANEM:

(Tentatively.) Don’t speak please till you are

called.

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HASINA:

Accused me of inciting violence. I was dragged to a small garden area, an enclosure, in the grounds of the museum. NABILA: MAN:

They used their tasers on her.

(To NABILA.) Do I know you?

NABILA:

Yes, our mothers were friends.

MAN:

You have a sister, an older sister, a tall striking young woman. NABILA: MAN:

She’s sat beside me.

Please stand!

(ARSHIYA does not.) NABILA: MAN:

She’s frightened.

(Pleased.) There’s nothing to be frightened of.

(ARSHIYA stands.) Thank you. These court were set up to hear complaints. (HASINA laughs.) NABILA:

She’s…she’s ill. She’s frightened.

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MAN:

(Speaking kindly.) Despite your obvious charms young ladies, and our past acquaintance I request you don’t speak till called. NABILA: MAN:

But we make our complaint, jointly.

(To MRS GANEM.) Is that true?

(She flicks through the files.) MRS GANEM: SARAH:

Yes.

(A young child is clinging to her legs, a puppet.)

There were about eighteen of us. I was holding my daughter Ru’yah’s hand. She’s ten. MAN:

A child?

MRS GANEM

looks to him.

MRS GANEM:

There are notations.

MAN:

Right, I see. Well, why not? In these enlightened times. (He rifles through his papers to RU’YAH.) Welcome. And may the transparency of these historic proceedings serve you and serve our future.

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(HASINA laughs.) Am I amusing you? HASINA:

Just because I laugh, doesn’t mean I’m amused.

SARAH:

They beat us, the soldiers. They dragged us by our clothes. HASINA:

They were punching and kicking.

SARAH:

They kicked my young daughter, they made her ears bleed. MAN:

(Softly to severally?

MRS GANEM.)

Is this complaint brought

(MRS GANEM flicks through her files.) Is this legal now? HASINA:

They made us squat on the floor.

NABILA:

We had to maintain this position…

HASINA:

…for many hours.

SARAH:

We heard an officer say that we were being charged. NABILA: SARAH:

The charge was prostitution.

They called us whores.

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(HASINA laughs.) My daughter hears this. HASINA: SARAH:

…first to the cells…

NABILA: SARAH:

We were taken to Hikestep…

…then, into a small dark dusty room.

They asked us to strip.

NABILA:

A woman asked. She said, ‘Remove your

clothes’. (MRS GANEM coughs.) HASINA:

I refused. They took the taser and used it between my legs. NABILA: SARAH:

The windows were open, open to the air.

NABILA: SARAH:

I started taking off my clothes.

I asked for the door to be closed.

I took off all my clothes. They made my daughter

watch. (The MAN is looking closely at NABILA and ARSHIYA.) An officer was watching me from one of the windows in the courtyard. He was sat drinking coffee.

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(The MAN is listening very carefully.) HASINA:

Would you like us to stop at this point? Move on to other grievances perhaps? MAN:

Stop?

HASINA: MAN:

Yes.

No, why? No. You have a right to testimony.

(To ARSHIYA.) Young lady? NABILA: MAN:

She’s ill. She’s frightened.

(To ARSHIYA.) You were with your sister?

I mean this happened together, to you both? NABILA: MAN:

No.

Please…

(To ARSHIYA.) … Today is not the time in our great nation’s history, for reticence, it’s a time for, well, not reticence. (ARSHIYA opens her mouth, tries to speak.) NABILA:

(Soft, anxious.) Tell them.

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HASINA: SARAH:

Tell them.

Tell them.

(A slight pause.) HASINA:

A man came in.

NABILA:

A doctor.

(HASINA laughs.) SARAH:

Wearing a filthy white coat stained with blood and pus. HASINA:

His dinner all down the front.

(They all laugh.) MAN:

Let the young lady speak.

HASINA:

(Softly.) Speak up.

NABILA:

I think she might collapse, she won’t even drink

water. SARAH:

The man in the dirty coat…

HASINA:

…the doctor…

(She laughs.) SARAH:

…said they were testing us to see if we were

virgins. 33

HASINA:

I asked to be ‘tested’ by a woman.

(MRS GANEM coughs.) The good doctor punched me in the stomach. MAN:

(To ARSHIYA.) You were also naked in the room?

NABILA:

Tell him.

SARAH/HASINA:

Tell him.

(Pause.) ARSHIYA: NABILA: MAN:

(Very softly.) He asked me if I was a virgin.

And she said she was.

Of course. Very good young lady.

HASINA:

He told her to stand with her legs apart. He stood close to her. His breath smelt too sweet. His skin was bumpy. And he looked…he looked frightened. (HASINA laughs.) NABILA:

She’s ill. She’s really ill.

HASINA:

Tell them.

SARAH:

Tell them.

ARSHIYA:

He pushed his fingers into me.

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(Pause.) MAN:

And this happened in turn to you all?

SARAH:

Yes.

NABILA: SARAH:

He took away her virginity.

(Looking at SABEEN.) It’s unlawful.

(Pause.) MAN:

It is. It is unlawful, and the court is grateful for your courage and your candour. (Pause.) Possibly, and this doesn’t excuse their actions, they were protecting themselves – the soldiers from false allegations of rape. (HASINA laughs.) and sexual assault. Honourable men have been besmirched, families torn apart. The foreign press invents stories. (Pause.) And it is a mite unconventional, you know, out on the streets, shouting, carrying placards, sitting in tents through the night

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(Softly.) with young men. (He calls.) Sabeen al Diri. SABEEN: MAN:

State your complaint.

SABEEN: MAN:

(She stands.) Yes.

I’m a lawyer.

What kind of law do you practise?

(He looks at MRS GANEM who shuffles papers.) SABEEN:

I specialised in contracting, contract law. Before

the… HASINA:

Revolution.

SABEEN:

I worked for a chain of hotels, restaurants and gift shop called Planet Syros. MAN:

How do you know…?

HASINA:

Hasina.

SABEEN:

I was approached by her. She asked for my advice. She wanted to lodge a complaint against the

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soldiers who electrocuted her, the officer who beat her and the… (Pause.) NABILA:

For defiling her.

SABEEN:

I was at home having dinner with my husband and my son. We were…arguing. MAN:

Arguing?

SABEEN:

My husband wanted to go out. He wanted his young niece to mind our son. I don’t like this girl. MAN:

Of course.

What wife likes their husband’s pretty young relatives? (HASINA laughs.) SABEEN:

There was a knock on our door, a polite tap. I remember in those few seconds, I remember, I could hear the air…sing…the silence. MAN:

You heard the silence sing…?

(MRS GANAM laughs.) SABEEN:

They didn’t wait for an answer they kicked it down. I just froze. I didn’t know what was happening. I didn’t even reach out to protect my son.

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MAN:

I see.

SABEEN:

I was also taken to…

HASINA:

Hikestep.

SARAH:

With my small child. There was a blanket on the

floor. NABILA:

The floor was stained.

SABEEN:

There were words scratched onto the wall…

HASINA:

I could hear a man being beaten.

SABEEN:

…a poem I think, to someone’s sweetheart.

HASINA:

He was screaming, crying out.

SARAH:

We could hear the blows

NABILA:

I could hear the shouts of the soldiers.

SABEEN:

After three days they took me out to a large room, just down the corridor. It had a carpet. I remember, it’s absurd of course, but I was reassured that I was in a room with a carpet, curtain and a phone. We talked about law. My law degree, where I studied. The man said his son was studying law at Oxford. He said he couldn’t understand why anyone would want

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to study law because it was so boring. He asked me how I knew… Hasina… HASINA:

We were friends. We got talking in a queue for

butter. SABEEN:

He told me I’d been silly, very silly, listening to the lies of this Hasina woman. HASINA

laughs.

He said that she wasn’t a virgin. He said she was a prostitute. He said on examination her vagina had been a bucket…something like that, something very offensive. He smiled and apologized for his candour. He said that she had given diseases to boys. He said that I had to promise not to help her or any women to bring court cases against the military…or the doctor who conducted the medical examination, who he said was a good man, a good doctor, highly qualified, a good son of the revolution, a reformer with real liberal ideals. He said if I met him at a party I would like him. MAN:

And what did you do then?

(Pause.) HASINA:

Leave her alone.

SABEEN:

(Pause.)

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My son was born eight weeks premature. He has learning difficulties. He gets upset if I go away even for one night. MAN:

You agreed to have no further contact with…

SABEEN:

They said they would let me go home as long as I promised not to leave the house without my husband’s permission. MAN:

(Gently.) And this is a reason for complaint? To be allowed home under your loving husband’s protection. SABEEN:

They told me I could no longer practise law, that I wouldn’t be allowed. HASINA:

Before she left they made her clean the military toilet block. SARAH:

She was made to get down on her hands and

knees. NABILA:

It took her four days.

HASINA:

They told her they had broken her for her husband, that they would have a happier marriage, that her husband would thank them because now, she knew what it was to be a woman. (Pause.) MAN:

Amisi Massri.

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(AMISI stands.) And you are? (Silence.) AMISI:

I am the mother of Hasina…

(Pause.) MAN:

Make your complaint.

AMISI:

She…she was a very naughty little girl, very high spirited. She would laugh and shout and jump. She liked to dance. She called it dancing but really it was just pulling the big ones about. Her big boy cousins were frightened of her. I felt ashamed. MAN:

I see.

AMISI:

I blame her father. He liked to hear her laugh. I told him little girls have to learn when it’s in their best interests to smile. She never smiled. MAN:

Is that your complaint?

(MRS GANEM sniggers.) AMISI:

She never smiled. After…after…

HASINA:

Tell them.

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AMISI:

After the blinding of the boy.

NABILA/ARSHIYA:

Our brother.

AMISI:

She changed. I think she must have had a soft spot for him, because after that incident she became secretive, you know, from then on she started going out at night. And I knew she attended these… SARAH: AMISI:

Meetings.

Yes…and.

NABILA:

Gatherings.

AMISI:

Yes, they were happening everywhere, all over the city. I mean she’d get a call and there’d be a lot of whispering. And she’d be gone. And I guessed she’d be out, even on the streets perhaps, because this sounds silly, but she always wore a swimsuit underneath her clothes. Sometimes they dragged her about and she said it exposed her belly, her stomach, so she wore the swimsuit. MAN:

Her father allowed this?

(MRS GANEM tut tuts.) HASINA:

My father encouraged it. My father believed in freedom and equality. AMISI:

He indulged her. He loved her too much.

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NABILA: SARAH: AMISI:

Then, one day.

Night, it was night.

She didn’t come home.

NABILA: SARAH:

And we knew something had been happening.

On the other side of the city.

AMISI:

And I knew right away that she had been taken. I knew because I am her mother. NABILA: AMISI:

So they went to the local military prison.

And we waited and waited, my poor husband and

I. SABEEN:

They had taken photographs of her laughing at a family party. AMISI:

My husband got this photograph printed and laminated, and he stood outside the prison everyday. NABILA:

Saying this is my beloved daughter. She is missing. Have you seen her? Can you help us find her? AMISI:

One of the soldiers was a cousin of a neighbor and he confirmed that she had been brought in. NABILA:

She had been shouting slogans, you know, political stuff.

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SARAH:

Struggling so fiercely it took three men to hold her down. AMISI:

He said charges had been brought against her, that they were grave, very grave indeed. They accused her of throwing Molotov cocktails into a crowd of soldiers, of insurrection at the highest level. SABEEN:

They retrieved messages from her phone planning future protests, illegal activity against the New State. AMISI:

We went home for a few days to wash and change clothes and think what we could do. NABILA:

And then they went back to the military jail.

AMISI:

But this time we were not allowed in the waiting area, in the walled courtyard. NABILA: SARAH:

Outside on the street.

NABILA: SARAH:

So they kept vigil outside.

For days.

Months.

ARSHIYA:

Mostly they stood silent.

AMISI:

Finally, I don’t remember how, we got information.

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SABEEN:

They said she had indeed been taken there.

NABILA:

At night.

SARAH:

In a covered military vehicle.

NABILA: SARAH:

Weeks.

NABILA: SARAH:

Questioned for days.

They would not let her sleep.

They said she had been electrocuted.

NABILA:

Beaten.

SABEEN:

Bits of information were released to the press.

AMISI:

They said they had cut off her beautiful hair. They said she had laughed. Months passed. NABILA:

There was no word.

AMISI:

Then late one night we received a call from an old man who cleaned at the military jail morgue. NABILA: SARAH:

He said…

He said…

AMISI:

He had come across the torso of a young woman. Also severed arms and hands. He said, this old man – there had been an attempt to burn the body parts. He said

45

there was a severed head, charred, the eyes open, the lips he said fused together. NABILA: SARAH:

He was…

Horrified.

AMISI:

He said everyone knew this was the laughing girl from the laminated photo. (Pause.) HASINA:

(She stands softly.) (Sadly.) (With humour, sarcastically.) I wish… I wish…to thank the Court and the incoming President of course for creating this opportunity today, (She laughs softly.) and graciously, graciously, allowing me to seek redress. MAN:

(Long pause. He flicks through papers.) And what of this child here? Will she make complaint? MRS GANEM

anxiously flicks through the files.

46

The Company run to the doors, apart from MRS GANEM who continues to sort through the papers and files. Projected on the floor – the letters coming up one at a time. In an informal meeting with the female protestors of Tahrir Square, the incoming President promised the women a court of redress to air their grievances And he urged all his honourable brother leaders in the Arab world to do the same It never happened. The courtroom door creaks open. A very old lady appears. She has numerous plastic bags. MRS GANEM:

Oh… Oh… My goodness. No. No. Out. Out you go. You’ve opened the wrong door old lady. OLD WOMAN:

Have I?

MRS GANEM:

The kitchen is down the small steps twisting

to the left. OLD WOMAN:

But this is the old court house? This is the main chamber? Is it? MRS GANEM:

Yes.

OLD WOMAN:

Well then I’m in the right place.

She sits and opens one of her packages.

47

Fancy a mint lump? MRS GANEM:

No. No. You don’t understand.

OLD WOMAN:

Don’t I?

MRS GANEM:

Today is a very special day here indeed. An important day. A historic day. OLD WOMAN:

It’s his trial. The pockfaced, bandy legged, big eared, boss eyed, small dicked old… MRS GANEM:

Yes… Yes, it is.

OLD WOMAN:

You can always tell a dictator by his roots.

MRS GANEM:

Eh?

OLD WOMAN:

They all dye their hair that dodgy soot black. The minute they do that, they should be frog marched off and lynched in the public square. That simple pre-emptive action would save several genocides. MRS GANEM:

Look, you can’t come in.

OLD WOMAN:

Why?

MRS GANEM:

Well for a start off, procedures for attendance in the court today are set in stone. OLD WOMAN:

Oh?

48

MRS GANEM:

A queuing system, plain and simple. The first twenty citizens welcome in the public gallery to witness history. OLD WOMAN:

I can’t wait.

MRS GANEM:

You were in the queue?

OLD WOMAN:

I was, I was indeed. I was about number… roughly, I’d say, 2079. MRS GANEM:

Right.

OLD WOMAN:

So I had to strategise. I fainted, pretended to, moaned and rolled my eyes, and then my two great grandsons, lovely boys, passed me over the crowd helped by many hands, which I must say was a lot more fun than I vaguely remember, till I was number one. My nose pressed cold against the marble portico. MRS GANEM:

They never let you in?

OLD WOMAN:

I explained, I’ve an eruptive small bowel, a rather unpredictable condition. They directed me to the ladies rest room. MRS GANEM:

Without searching you?

OLD WOMAN:

I offered to strip for them. I told them they were in luck because I was wearing my fancy long johns, but… MRS GANEM:

They declined.

49

(Pause.) looks nervously at the door, then back to the OLD WOMAN. MRS GANEM

Oh, oh Alright. Alright then. Sit down somewhere. As long as you don’t say a word, OK? (The OLD WOMAN sits.) As long as you go ooh and aah in the right place. OLD WOMAN:

Oooh! Aaah !

MRS GANEM:

(Whispering.) If anyone says who let you in, tell them it was him. NOUR / MARIEM / POPPY / LINA/ STEVE / SARAH / ROSE/ VERA / RU’YAH SCENE 2 – TUNISIA Projected onto the floor. Scene 2 Tunisia ‘It is an exciting time. At last our world is changing.’ Busy Women are sweeping, dusting. A young lady is blowing up balloons.

50

A blonde, British reporter with a discrete recorder is struggling to get useful material. In the middle sat at a table, the child, RU’YAH, (a puppet) supervised by MARIEM, is quietly crayoning. In the background the big event is supposed to be being relayed by a tannoy system but the sound is muffled and under amplified. Though they have to talk over it. LINA:

I hate Justin Bieber. I hate him! I hate him!

NOUR:

Yeah?

MARIEM:

So that cruddy picture of him under your pillow just tore itself out of TuniVisions? NOUR:

You realise you’re old enough to be his mother?

(Pause.) LINA:

I hate Justin Bieber!

POPPY:

Are you her sister…?

NOUR:

Whose?

POPPY:

Sarah’s.

NOUR:

Hardly.

MARIEM:

(Softly.) She means ideological sister.

51

POPPY:

No, I don’t.

NOUR:

She isn’t related to anyone here.

MARIEM

points to RU’YAH.

Apart from possibly her daughter. POPPY:

Oh, goodness. That has been such a pivotal thing in the campaign, – you know, her being this visible single mother, all the insults and threats have really illuminated the fierce challenges you face here… MARIEM: NOUR:

Thank you!

You speak reasonably good English.

(Slight pause.) POPPY: LINA:

I’m from Coventry.

Do you know Morrissey?

(ROSE comes in with a big pot.) ROSE:

One of my specials! I’ve made a one pot. It’s disgusting, don’t anyone here touch it. MARIEM:

Café Tunis donated ten small bottles of Lipton Peach Iced Tea. (Pause.)

52

ROSE:

Ten won’t go far.

NOUR:/MARIEM:/ROSE:

How mean!!

(They laugh.) NOUR:

(Looking at one pot.) What’s wrong with it?/

POPPY:

/Hallo my name is/

ROSE:

/It’s a bit claggy./

POPPY: ROSE:

/I’m from News Search/I

A bit gritty.

POPPY:

/I hope to interview Sarah Karmen/

ROSE:

/A bit powdery, a bit flea powdery/

NOUR:

/You put flea powder in it?/

ROSE:

/Not intentionally, it was next to the mixed spice/

POPPY: ROSE:

/Or her supporters…her family. Are you her…?/

/No I’m not her mother. Hardly!

POPPY:

She’s adopted isn’t she?

ROSE:

(She laughs.) You’re the fifth person to ask, I got fed up and told the camp little lad from the Daily Mall/ NOUR:

/Mail/ 53

ROSE:

I was. .

He gave me a packet of ginger nuts MARIEM:

Ooh…

(Holding out hands.) ROSE:

Which I… I…gave to a poor man outside.

(MARIEM laughs.) NOUR:

None of us are related.

MARIEM: NOUR:

Us three…

We are founders to…of./

MARIEM: NOUR:

And Sarah.

Of course, and Sarah, it goes without saying, and

Sarah. POPPY:

The Women’s Dignity Campaign.

Of course I know. ROSE:

Where’s your camera sweetie, your…

MARIEM:

Crew?

ROSE:

The little crew boys, with their tight trousers and bumpers.

54

POPPY:

I’m a print journalist, actually.

ROSE:

The Americans are following her everywhere, she needed to spend a penny and had to say Sorry guys, not in here. Sorry. NOUR:

Yeah? Did she really? Sorry guys…

POPPY:

She is an inspirational figure.

NOUR:

P’raps she pisses Lipton’s Sweet Peach Tea…

POPPY:

There’s talk of her on the cover of Time.

ROSE:

She got a…a…whatsit, a make-up artist, running around after her dabbing and brushing… NOUR:

Did she wear her scarf?

MARIEM:

Yes. She did.

NOUR:

Oh, she’ll be looking winsome then, for the cameras. ROSE:

(In American accent.) This burnt amber makes your eyes pop. MARIEM: ROSE:

She’s photogenic…

Beauty and brains.

POPPY:

I’m not surprised she’s got a stonking publishing deal, her blog really illuminates the fierce challenges…

55

NOUR:

You said that before.

POPPY:

Did I…

NOUR:

You said exactly that.

(Awkward pause.) What you crayoning, Ru’yah? ROSE:

(To RU’YAH.) Don’t have any stew. It’s horrible.

(Pause.) POPPY:

Where did you meet? On Facebook I read…

MARIEM: POPPY:

We met in the cells, actually.

Right.

MARIEM:

After a demonstration for the release of protestors still in custody. POPPY:

Yes?

(Pause.) MARIEM: POPPY:

Rose’s son died in prison you see.

Oh no, I’m…

MARIEM:

Nour’s husband was arrested and is still

missing.

56

POPPY:

Right. Goodness.

NOUR:

(Suddenly aggressive.) And what did you lose, Mariem? MARIEM:

Lina fell that day in the crowd, she was in a coma for four weeks. NOUR:

What did you lose?

MARIEM:

She still has the imprint of an army boot on the back of her skull. LINA:

You can’t see it because of my hair.

NOUR:

What did you lose?

MARIEM: LINA:

She has minor brain damage.

Very minor.

NOUR:

What did you lose?

(Awkward pause.) POPPY:

So…so. you decided to fight back, join forces so to speak and form a women’s organization. NOUR:

Yeah that’s right we thought it might illuminate the fierce challenges. (Silence.)

57

POPPY:

(Softly.) I fought to come here…to cover this story, because, well no one at the Agency thought it was significant really, and because…because I admire you all so very much you see. (Pause.) MARIEM:

I think it might be best you don’t write about The Dignity Campaign. POPPY:

Oh no! Why?

NOUR:

Tell her.

MARIEM:

Or if you do we shouldn’t be photographed or named. There’s some ambiguity as to whether we’re still legal. ROSE:

That’s why we’re in here with the flea powder one pot, and she’ll be out there with the smoked salmon and caper canapés. NOUR:

(Provocative.) But we’ll pop in will we Mariem, eh? All of us? For the official count, surely? We’re not going to let them hide us away for that…? (A round of applause from the tannoy system in a distorted solemn voice.) ROSE:

We’ve missed it, we’ve missed it all, have we? Oh no! No. Can you turn it up?

58

(Distant muffled male voice announcing election results.) MARIEM:

Can’t you make it louder? Twiddle the knob…

climbs up and twiddles knob. It comes off in her hand and gets even quieter. LINA

RU’YAH

laughs.

They all try to listen – very distant far off applause. ROSE:

She kept it simple, you know credit where credit’s due, through the whole messy business. MARIEM:

Ssh!

ROSE:

Fight corruption accountability, transparency.

in

local

government,

NOUR:

(Sarcastically.) Heroically championing the rights of women to freely assemble! ROSE:

Even a minimum wage. Good for her, I say.

MARIEM:

Ssh!

ROSE:

Bravo. I couldn’t do it.

NOUR:

You’re not photogenic.

(A final burst of applause.)

59

TINA:

Ooh they’re coming, I think? RU’YAH they’re coming! LINA

approaches POPPY.

LINA:

Are you married?

POPPY:

Yes.

LINA:

I saw your beautiful ring. Does your… I’ve forgotten the word. Does he mind you leaving him and coming here? POPPY: SARAH

Yes, he really minds a lot.

appears. She walks in. She is flanked by

STEVE. ROSE:

Woo hoo! Yeah? Woo hoo!

(Silence.) Woo hoo! (Grave faces.) Slowly SARAH sits down next to RU’YAH. SARAH: VERA:

Oh Ru’yah is that me? What a sad face!

It was…

STEVE:

Close.

60

VERA

and

VERA:

Quite close. Reasonably…

NOUR:

I knew it.

MARIEM:

Of course you know everything.

(Pause.) POPPY:

I am so…so… Look, I wonder, could you possibly… would you…could you, would you mind recording a few words for us? ROSE:

She’s from the BBC.

POPPY:

No, I’m not.

NOUR:

Say no.

STEVE:

The BBC? Shall we…?

VERA LINA:

confidentially shakes her head. (To VERA.) Do you know Justin Bieber?

POPPY:

When you’re ready.

SARAH:

(Speaking into microphone, softly, with difficulty.) I was not successful today in my attempt to be elected to the Constituent Assembly. But I am confident after the sacrifices of the thousands of female protestors in the squares, women will be successful in gaining positions of high office, and will soon be influential in

61

initiating history-making changes, not just here, but throughout the entire Arab world. (Pause.) NOUR, ROSE, SARAH

and MARIEM, almost accidentally hold hands for a few seconds. Their hands break. (Pause.) VERA:

I wonder if one of you girls …

She looks at the women… (To NOUR.) You! Yes, you! Would you help us change to an earlier flight? Pause. ROSE:

But not before you’ve had some of our delicious homemade stew. WISS / GRANDMA / FARAH / SARAH / ENASS / KATCHI / RU’YAH SCENE 3 – LIBYA Projected on the floor.

62

Scene 3 Libya ‘My brother refused to open fire on his neighbours so his superior officer shot him. Would I have done the same’ Morning – the ghost of a moon a concrete drainage culvert. From the pipe, throughout the scene, intermittent crashes, squeals, sobs, and sometimes prayers. Women are peering in. SARAH:

Is he stuck?

FARAH:

He’s not stuck. Is he?

(Into pipe.) Are you? He stinks. SARAH:

How long has he been in there?

FARAH:

Ask Ru’yah.

SARAH:

Ru’yah?

FARAH:

She found him.

KATCHI:

It doesn’t look like him. He was taller.

63

SARAH:

Taller…?

(Pause.) KATCHI:

(Looking over.) What’s at the other end?

FARAH:

Nothing.

SARAH:

Is there anybody in the middle?

FARAH:

I banged on it.

KATCHI:

Where are all his trucks, his soldiers? They wouldn’t leave him would they…on his own? Where are his people? FARAH:

Ask him.

KATCHI: FARAH:

I’m not asking him.

(To him.) Are you…?

SARAH:

(Pulling FARAH’s arm whispering.) Whoever he is… We don’t want him out, do we? He might go mad. He might have a gun. FARAH:

He has.

SARAH:

Well, there you go.

FARAH:

But he’s no bullets left, Ru’yah told me.

SARAH:

Ru’yah…?

64

(To RU’YAH.) How many times have you been here…to…visit this man? A stately and dignified old lady is leading, as quickly as she can, a very, very old lady, BEN, and a bundle of rags. ENASS:

Come on Grandma.

KATCHI: FARAH:

He’s in here, he might be stuck.

He’s not stuck.

KATCHI:

It’s definitely not him, because I remember him vividly. He used to turn up completely out of the blue in a sparkling white limousine, with a whole fleet of cars and soldiers following, wearing a lovely cream suit with gold brocade and a matching cap, to visit his mother p’raps. And he put his hand in his pocket so you’d see the yellow silk lining, and take out handfuls of sweets in gold and red and silver wrapping, and throw them in the air, and us little kids we’d be scurrying in the sand about his feet, picking up the sweets, making little balls out of the paper, popping the sticky, sugary buttery candy into our wet little mouths. I remember his shoes very. clearly, they were black patent. I could see my dirty face in them. It was as if he was off to Tripoli you know, for a tea dance. ENASS:

(Loudly.) Is it him?

GRANDMA:

Who?

65

ENASS:

Muammar? Move back, let Grandma have a better butchers. They all get behind GRANDMA who peers in. (Pause.) KATCHI:

It’s not him. Just a week or two ago he visited the hospital with his medals, and his white gloves bless him, he went around every soul, smiling, squeezing stumps, raising spirits. GRANDMA:

Hello Muammar. It’s me Aunty.

KATCHI:

Smiling at the nurses, you know, in that slightly quizzical way he had, little curl of the lip, ever the ladies’ man. It’s not him. GRANDMA:

(Loudly.) What you doing in a drainpipe…?

Man in drainpipe moans. SARAH:

Oh dear should we get him water.

FARAH:

On no. No! Not water.

(He sighs.) SARAH:

It must be hot in there.

ENASS:

Hot as hell.

66

FARAH:

Which is where he’s going isn’t it, after all? After he’s been to Misratah. SARAH:

What do you mean?

FARAH:

That’s where they’re taking him.

SARAH:

Who…?

FARAH:

Our soldiers, our fighters, our boys.

SARAH:

When…?

FARAH:

They’re going to show him the school he

bombed. SARAH:

How do you know?

FARAH:

They’re taking him to the playground to show him the bits of the children’s skin and bone fused to the slide, the blasted sand pit, and the swing. (Pause.) (He whimpers.) SARAH:

(Softly.) Please don’t say those things in front of my child. FARAH:

My Tarek was there first, the first one after the bomb. He found a girl, about fourteen he thought, a helper p’raps. Half of her he said was perfect as a flower.

67

This one’s soldiers were in their trucks about a mile away, but Tarek could hear them because they were playing loud music, laughing, calling out, even singing. Can you imagine…? So happy at the obliteration of their scum neighbor traitors. (Pause.) The girl, that girl, asked him for water, then asked him to shoot her. My poor gentle Tarek who only ever wanted to paint the sea, and take his pictures to London to sell on railings. He felt sick, suddenly sick, so he tried to run, run away, far away, but she kept calling after him. He said he could hear her voice through the dust ‘Please, don’t leave me. What will they do to me? Please, shoot me!’ He turned back into the dead ash air, and he walked right up to her. She had green eyes. He gave her water from his flask. ‘Thank you,’ she said softly ‘Thank you,’ and then he shot her through the head. SARAH:

How can you say these terrible things?

FARAH:

What about her?! That half girl? What about her mother? (Pause.) What about my Tarek? (Pause.)

68

GRANDMA:

Bye bye Muammar. I’ve got to go now to… to…urgently. ENASS:

(Prompting.) Sweep your front.

GRANDMA:

Soak my feet. Nice to see you again, lad.

(They move slightly away.) ENASS:

How do you know it’s him? You could only see his arse. GRANDMA:

I kicked him up it enough times.

(In the distance – sound of trucks, music, calling out.) A soldier boy arrives, 16/17, breathless, laughing, carrying a large old net. WISS:

They’re coming! A tyre blew, they’re stuck.

(He laughs.) I couldn’t wait. I ran. I beat them. FARAH:

He’s in the pipe.

(WISS roars with laughter.) KATCHI:

He’s stuck.

(WISS bends down and peers inside, recoiling at the smell.)

69

What’s the net for? WISS:

(Holding his nose.) Our fish.

SARAH: WISS:

Look, I know you’re taking him to Misratah.

Are we?

FARAH:

That’s what they said.

(WISS prods him with the bayonet, the man squeals.) WISS:

Has he got both arms?

SARAH:

I understand that you’re excited…

FARAH:

There’s an arm back there,

SARAH:

…worked up perhaps.

WISS:

In a fancy uniform, I got this.

(He holds up a watch.) KATCHI:

Oh, that is a bit special.

(WISS pokes one arm, he squeals, then another poke, he squeals again.) SARAH:

Look, please I understand the Misratah thing

but… WISS:

No, he has two arms.

70

KATCHI:

Where are his people?

(WISS silently gestures towards the far end of the pipe and then does ‘dead’.) KATCHI:

Ssch!

FARAH:

Why ‘Ssch’?

ENASS:

Where’s his son?

(WISS mimes bullet through head.) Good! GRANDMA:

He used to pull the wings of chicks. I remember the screams of the mother birds. ENASS:

You couldn’t reprimand him, the boy, you weren’t allowed. SARAH:

He will be put on trial…? He must be seen to get a fair and open hearing. KATCHI:

Oh yes, he can wear his lovely suit and cap.

(Calling into pipe.) That’ll be nice then. SARAH:

Because, because that is the right thing…

(WISS spits into the pipe.)

71

Stop that. Stop THAT! WISS:

I’m not killing him.

SARAH:

To challenge him formally and publically to defend his actions. WISS:

They’d be mad as hell…/

SARAH: WISS:

/Exactly!/

/if I killed him.

(Pause.) Because they all want a piece of him alive! ENASS:

Well I know which bit I want.

(GRANDMA roars.) Here let me have a poke. (She grabs WISS’s rifle and bayonet and viciously prods MUAMMAR, he squeals.) There, that’s for my friend Yusra, who told off your son, and who you ordered to be flogged half to death. GRANDMA:

And that’s for your nephew Ali’s pet rabbit, that you skinned alive.

72

(The convoy of soldiers is on its way, shouting, laughing.) KATCHI:

(Anxious.) They’re coming… They’re coming Oh dear, and they really, really, don’t like you. SARAH:

(Looking at

FARAH.)

Stop this, please. This isn’t

right. KATCHI:

They’re coming.

(The convoy is getting closer. The jangle of music, voices.) SARAH:

Look, let’s get him out… Shall we?

(To FARAH.) You and I, and let’s talk to them, reason with them. He must have a trial. (And closer.) FARAH:

He’ll never be the same, Tarek, my Tarek, not after the half girl. He used to laugh. He used to be brave He shakes. He won’t touch me. (The convoy is getting even closer.) ENASS:

There see, give him a poke for your Tarek.

(FARAH takes the rifle and bayonet. She is still and thoughtful. ENASS grabs GRANDMA’s stick.)

73

(To SARAH.) Have you checked her? SARAH:

What?

ENASS:

(She pokes him with the stick.) That’s for all the little girls you got sent up to your rooftop apartment. From the convoy whoops and cries. GRANDMA:

(Spits.) And the little boys.

SARAH:

What?

ENASS:

What’s he been giving her eh, on all of her visits?

(Convoy closer.) KATCHI:

Sweets?

SARAH:

Ru’yah?

ENASS:

Money?

SARAH:

Ru’yah, don’t listen to her.

(And closer.) WISS:

You better check her down below.

SARAH:

Shut up! Shut up!

KATCHI:

(Agitated.) Oh no. They’re here, they’re here!! 74

WISS:

(Taking out a knife.) Right ladies.

(He is drowned out by the convoy. Many voices, gunfire, laughter.) I must insist you repair to your dwellings This is now officially men’s work. Najma’s song but faster, fiercer, a whirligig, a mad jig. End of Act One. INTERVAL. ALIA / SAYID / DRIVER / NATALIA / OLA / SARAH / RANIM /LILIANE / RU’YAH SCENE 4 – SYRIA Projected on floor. Scene 4 Syria. ‘We want to do good, but are not sure how.’ Night – about three miles away – lights are flashing. Planes are dropping bombs. A semi-derelict building of some former glory. Four women, RANIM, LILIANE, SARAH and thirteen), all filthy, hungry and exhausted.

75

RU’YAH

(Now

They have their possessions about them in bags or bundles. RANIM, SARAH

and RU’YAH perch uneasily.

Another figure with bundles stands in the shadows. LILIANE:

(Pacing.) We would sit on our roof terrace – Mahmoud had planted palms in pots, even an English flowering cherry, together, all together and watch the sun set, talk drink tea out of old uncle Shiraz’ crystal cut ruby glasses. SARAH:

(Agitated.) Ssh…please.

LILIANE: SARAH:

All I’m saying, was it that bad? Was it?

He told us to stay quiet.

LILIANE:

Perhaps…forgive me, we might just get together, peacefully, and agree to go back. Go back to the way things were. The DRIVER enters — with him three figures — two women in full niqab and a young man. DRIVER:

(Whispering.) You’re sitting down! I told you, I quite specifically said, don’t sit down! You’ll get it all over my truck. SARAH:

What?

76

DRIVER:

Shit! Old shit splattered everywhere, can’t you smell it? The sewers blasted I don’t know. RANIM:

I don’t care, I quite like the smell. I thought it was cow shit, I grew up with cows. DRIVER:

(To the three new arrivals, smirking.) You can sit where you like. Though I would humbly suggest ladies, you might get a better welcome if you arrive smelling of rose water or…sweet mint tea, or better still muffins and English jam! Anyway you’re on your own now. That’s it. RANIM:

What do you mean? That’s it?

DRIVER:

You walk the rest of the way young man. I’d wait till the bombing’s stopped if you want to arrive with all your best bits. (He points.) That way. Straight as an arrow. You’ll see them eventually. Can’t miss them. RANIM:

How far? Cos like these are my only trainers and they’re already scant. DRIVER:

Three or four mile. You brought something to

wave? RANIM:

Wave?

DRIVER:

Like a flag.

77

RANIM:

No I’ll text them.

DRIVER: RANIM: OLA:

Are they expected?

Don’t ask me!

Yes, of course.

NATALIA: DRIVER:

We are being met.

You don’t say.

NATALIA:

I really don’t like your tone. You might be glad of a good word from us one day. SAYID:

(In a posh voice.) Yes, my good man. Kindly adjust your tone! (He laughs.) DRIVER:

You lot,

(To the originals.) be ready to leave in five minutes. (To SARAH.) You get me? Meanwhile I need crap of my own. I’ll be outside. SARAH:

(To shadowy figure.) Perhaps…you had better tell him. I’m sorry, I forget your name.

78

(ALIA turns round. She is filthy and unkempt.) ALIA:

It’s okay, it’s the same man.

I paid him. (Pause.) RANIM:

(To RU’YAH.) Do you want to play cards?

(RU’YAH shakes her head.) SARAH:

She’s shy, she’s very shy.

RANIM:

Cards?

LILIANE:

Oh dear… You’ll have to burn them…

RANIM:

Bury them. You won’ be playing cards where you’re going young man. (Pause.) RANIM:

(To RU’YAH.) Can I show you a magic trick? Make things disappear? Eh, into thin air? SARAH:

Please—I mean no disrespect, but I would prefer you didn’t speak to her. RANIM: OLA:

Why not? I have a little sister. I won’t harm her.

Had.

79

NATALIA:

You had a sister. That’s what they told us. Our old life is gone. (Pause.) ALIA: OLA:

(To the boy.) Are you British? Don’t tell her.

RANIM:

They’re not with me Let’s get that clear.

(RANIM laughs.) RANIM:

I’m from London — well Sutton actually.

LILIANE:

I visited London England in 1987, my husband and I, we saw The Mousetrap, a whodunit. And we eat at a preposterously theatrical restaurant in Drury Lane, with masks and gold cherubs, and dolls and puppets hanging from the ceiling. RANIM:

London? All the way from London?

RANIM:

My father’s Syrian, we came here every summer for our holidays till I was fourteen. (Pause.) RANIM:

It’s not your war.

RANIM:

Isn’t it?

RANIM:

No.

80

(Pause.) Go home to London and live your young man’s life there! RANIM:

You think?

RANIM:

We don’t need you here…

RANIM:

I see.

RANIM:

And don’t ever fool yourself you’re a real Syrian.

(Pause.) RANIM:

Right.

(Slowly, softly.) But my uncle and my cousin are real Syrians, I suppose. They were taken from a street protest in December 2011, tortured for five days. On the third day, there was a knock at the door. A taxi with two men had come for my aunt — she’s a plump little woman, a mum, that’s all she is really, you know, who washes your underpants and cooks for you… — And my little cousin Shayma — about 13 like your daughter — anyway a really nice black shiny taxi with polished wheels and a nodding bulldog on the dashboard — they were told that if they went with the men in the taxi they would see my uncle and my cousin. (Slight pause.)

81

They did see them, (He speaks very softly.) hanging from meat hooks in a cellar. (Softer still.) being flayed alive. RANIM:

Your…daughter…?

(SARAH does nothing.) RANIM:

After an hour of watching this they were made to get back in the nice shiny taxi, and then they were driven home. (Long pause.) LILIANE: ALIA:

Is it still there? Do you think…?

(To

SAYID.)

You know what you’re going to, do

you? LILIANE:

…the Restaurant?

ALIA:

(To SAYID.) What they’ve done five miles from here? To old men to women, even to small children? LILIANE:

The show after the show —That’s how they advertised it, the restaurant, it was on the site of an old washhouse that had been there since the Great Fire.

82

(To OLA.) Imagine. Is it still there? NATALIA:

We wouldn’t know.

OLA:

You see we’re not from London, we’re from Altringham. LILIANE:

Yes…?

(Pause.) Is that near Luxembourg? (Slight pause.) Are there no nice boys in Altringham? (ALIA laughs.) SARAH: ALIA:

Sssh! Please.

I don’t think they’re interested in nice boys.

NATALIA:

Be careful what you say to us.

ALIA:

Yeah, careful. Why? What will you do to me if I’m not careful? You and whose army. What will you do? OLA:

I would be careful.

83

ALIA:

Oh shut up! Shut your stupid mouth! You don’t scare me. You be scared! After they ‘marry’ you, after they get you pregnant, they keep you inside in the dark, forever. You never see the sky or grass or sand. They’ll visit you to procreate, to populate their so called ‘state.’ They won’t talk — hardly, – anyway, you can’t properly understand each other. Your babies when they are weaned, if they’re boys, will be taken away, given to their mothers. We’re not sure yet what they do with the girls. Keep some for future breeding perhaps? And if after all that they decide they don’t like you, they will bury you in a hole in the ground and starve you, then they will throw bread and watch you scratch about in the dirt. And they will laugh even louder because you are English! NATALIA:

How dare you try to frighten us with your disgusting lies? OLA:

(To SAYID.) What sort of man are you, letting her speak like that to us? SARAH:

Is that true, all that? How do you know?

(Pause.) RANIM:

What happened to your hands?

NATALIA: OLA:

She’s a thief.

A whore.

84

RANIM:

(To SARAH.) She shouldn’t be hearing this.

SARAH:

(Softly.) How many times, how many times…can you say, close your eyes and ears and listen to the stars? (Pause.) NATALIA:

(To ALIA.) You’re jealous. No man would want you. You will have babies with no hands who can’t fight. Your stumps stink. We are together, me and my sister, engaged to be married, our new husbands to be are good, brave, fearless and devout. (ALIA laughs.) We have spoken to them for many months. They have made a sacred promise to protect us, to cherish us. LILIANE:

Oh dear. Oh dear.

ALIA:

Are you deaf? Can’t you hear the bombs? What if pretty Facebook Faroukh with the deep brown eyes and muscles is dead? LILIANE:

Close your eyes and ears and listen to the stars. Very good. Very good indeed. ALIA:

What, if you’re left with fat sweaty older brother Mohey? OLA:

And would that be so terrible? Would it? You think we are so shallow that that stuff matters to us, so stupid

85

that we haven’t agonised for months over this terrible, terrible decision… NATALIA:

…to leave our homes and families…

OLA:

…our mothers! We are sick of all the small daily hates we’ve lived with for years and years. Before we wore the veil, just before, walking along the street in the warm evening, a police car stopped. We had been reported soliciting, apparently This accusation was made by two ‘friends’ from school, spiteful boys we had rebuffed. The shame made me ill. NATALIA:

Our mother wouldn’t leave the house for a

month. OLA:

Then, after, when we wore the veil…

NATALIA: OLA:

…we were spat at in the street…

…jostled on the bus…

NATALIA:

…an old drunk threw his beer over me.

OLA:

Now, at last, we have the chance to be part of something big, something great… NATALIA:

…something greater…

OLA:

…and we are happy to sacrifice all our small worldly wants, for that.

86

LILIANE:

Do you think…? May I ask? Do you think we will ever see our husbands again? (Pause.) RANIM:

No. No never. And I think, perhaps, that is best.

ALIA:

So you are prepared to trade in all the small daily hates for one great big one? (Pause.) Quite possibly the biggest hate of all. (To SAYID.) And you, our young Syrian avenger, you know where you’re going and what you’re going to do? RANIM:

Yes.

ALIA:

Because I’m no psychologist, but it’s fairly clear they’d really rather cut knobs off than heads, ’cos they’re all trying to be the biggest boy in the locker room aren’t they, let’s face it? And anyway they’re just the ideological bastard of all the fucking suits through history. They’re just trying to wear their underpants on the outside. RANIM:

Please –?

ALIA:

Oh no, am I offending you? Your sensibilities? What will you do? When they make you kill?

87

(Pause.) Did you hear me? (Pause.) When they make you kill a child? Decapitate a small child, what will you do? (Pause.) RANIM:

I will pray to be made strong, and I will think of my tortured dead uncle who taught me keepy uppys, and my clever geeky cousin, who when they finally gave back his body to my poor aunty, was still wearing his best Bart Simpson socks. gets out a chocolate bar and tears off the paper. Carefully, she divides it into two to give to her sister. OLA

ALIA:

Give it to the child she’s starving.

A scuffle, ALIA tries to grab the chocolate but with no hands it falls into the dirt. DRIVER: (DRIVER

enters.) Look at you. My God, scrapping over chocolate. You’re animals. And to think I risk my life for you sort every day. And I’m a father too, I have six children. I am doing you all a great favour remember that. This is a humanitarian act on my part really. Your money hardly pays my petrol. (Pause, he points to SARAH.)

88

Out there now! I’ll have to hold my nose. (Pause.) ALIA:

(Softly.) What?

SARAH: ALIA:

I’m coming it’s alright.

What?

DRIVER:

You have a problem? Eh? You? Who can’t even scratch your own arse. I tell you this much. It’s a good job you had the cash, cos there wouldn’t have been the same arrangement for you. He spits on the ground. (To SARAH.) Don’t look so glum I told you as a favour I’d take the kid instead, and I’d be gentle. SARAH:

No!

RANIM:

Oh my.

ALIA:

No!

SARAH:

It’s alright really, would you watch Ru’yah for

me? (To RU’YAH).

89

I’ll be back in five minutes. The DRIVER and SARAH make to go. ALIA blocks that path. ALIA:

No. Here look, I’ve paid I’ll stay. She can have my place. RANIM:

Don’t make such a fuss…a fuss about nothing.

The DRIVER and SARAH leave. RANIM

hugs RU’YAH.

An awkward pause slowly, after some thought, OLA takes out of her bag another chocolate bar and hands it to RU’YAH. SHINE / POPPY / JOHN / SHANAR / TRIFA / SARAH / KEJAL / RU’YAH Projected on floor. A Border Somewhere Scene 5 ‘We are nobody’s heroes.’ JOHN

and POPPY are set apart from the others.

SHINE:

My baby brother smells of strawberries, I do not know how this can be? My mother washes his hair and skin with soap boiled from goat fat, and our goats – dry and scabby – not the least bit strawberry-ish – or soapy, smell simply of goat.

90

JOHN:

(To POPPY.) It’s alright you can cry.

SHANAR:

Today.

TRIFA:

Three hours ago.

KEJAL:

A young man.

SHANAR:

Barefoot and bearded

SHINE:

Smelling of sick, stumbled into our camp, high on something. TRIFA:

A local man, local-ish, vaguely recognized as someone’s cousin’s cousin. SHANAR: KEJAL:

That’s what they do.

Send in the so-called local converts.

SHANAR:

Scared witless.

SHINE:

To distract and waste us.

KEJAL:

Waste our bullets.

SHANAR:

He is half naked, so isn’t strapped.

SHINE:

And somewhere back there, he must have dropped his gun. TRIFA:

So poor bastard, he’s the lucky one.

91

SHANAR:

Shavia winds duct tape round his eyes and hands and feet. Wedges a plastic bucket between his knees, and yes, we share our bread. JOHN:

Do you want to hear a joke?

SARAH:

Killing is wrong we know that.

POPPY:

No joke please.

SHINE:

Sarah rescues beetles on her postcards and gently blows them into the scrub. JOHN:

What’s orange and sounds like a parrot?

SARAH:

Their wings are green and uniquely iridescent, Ru’yah. One… POPPY:

A carrot.

SARAH:

…had a single, unexplained red dot.

JOHN:

How do crazy people get through a forest?

SHINE:

But this sick man, someone’s treacherous cousin’s cousin, will be our last prisoner. JOHN:

They take the psychopath.

SHANAR: KEJAL:

It’s shoot to kill always now.

Kill or be killed.

92

TRIFA:

Or worse watch your sister comrade fall by your side because of your own slow sensibility. POPPY: JOHN:

I…

Go on.

POPPY:

I want to say.

I want to say, thank you, I want to say… (Pause.) if ever I get kidnapped again – I hope I might run into you…. SHINE:

We are volunteers.

SHANAR:

All women.

POPPY:

…only don’t necessarily share that sentiment with my husband. KEJAL:

We serve together in friendship.

TRIFA:

Haval, we sign no contracts.

SHINE:

The people pay a modest monthly sum, and in return we promise to protect them. SHANAR: KEJAL:

In-between fighting we train hard.

We grow our own food.

93

SHINE:

We keep pets.

SARAH:

Ru’yah sleeps with her head on the belly of a rough haired terrier called Spike. SHINE:

And at last we learn to speak our mother tongue banned in our parents’ lifetime. JOHN:

You must be very loved.

POPPY:

I am.

SHANAR:

One secret Wednesday afternoon, my sister-inlaw tried to teach her young class our alphabet, word got out. KEJAL:

Forgive the pun.

SHANAR:

She was a refined young woman, very clever, with a passion for Austen and Proust. After Assad’s whipping she died. The strain on her heart, KEJAL:

And pride

SHANAR: JOHN:

Was just too much.

I promise.

SHINE:

Now our friends bring books, and we take classes, and already Avinar is nearly fluent. POPPY:

If they offer me one last wish what should I ask

for?

94

JOHN:

They won’t.

TRIFA: JOHN:

Every week we go home for two days.

So, don’t torture yourself.

(She laughs.) KEJAL:

The men in the village

TRIFA:

some of them.

KEJAL:

are ashamed, they can’t look us in the eye,

SHANAR: POPPY: JOHN:

Our courage and commitment confounds them.

P’raps they’d give me a phone call?

Maybe.

SHINE:

To be a woman here —

TRIFA:

has always been to stay at home,

KEJAL:

Mostly alone.

TRIFA:

to clean, and bear children, and never to bring shame on our family. JOHN:

What would you say?

SHINE:

We were considered less than our brothers – fathers –

95

POPPY:

That I’m sorry…

SHINE:

sons

POPPY:

…that I’m not sorry.

SARAH:

At first I admit, I only liked cleaning the gun. I hated the loud bang. The rifle’s recoil bruised my rib and shoulder. KEJAL:

I wasn’t fit.

TRIFA:

I couldn’t run far.

KEJAL:

Or jump.

SARAH:

But everyone encouraged everyone.

SHINE:

and I discovered I had useful long vision and a steady hand. TRIFA:

If they win this fight.

SHANAR:

if they take our land, they will cut off the heads of our men, our old women, even our children. KEJAL:

And worse than kill us they will rape us,

TRIFA:

or sell us.

SHINE:

and as their slaves our lives will be spent inside,

KEJAL:

forced to hide our thoughts in shadow,

96

TRIFA:

hardly allowed to breathe, or even feel,

SHANAR:

never allowed into the sunshine except with fathers, brothers, sons. JOHN:

No one knows this but I’ve got one last paracetamol. (POPPY laughs.) And it’s got your name on it. SHANAR:

They are only 500 metres away.

SHINE:

our enemy.

POPPY:

No keep it.

(Pause.) You might get a headache. (They both laugh.) (Nearby a gun booms.) SHANAR:

That single gunshot says goodnight.

KEJAL:

Before us, our brother soldiers here would fire back, that was the game they played.

97

SHANAR:

Anyway we don’t return their shot. We are not here risking our sisters’ lives to play by their rules, and our nightly refusal, KEJAL:

our silence, our total lack of compliance

SHINE:

We know enrages them.

(Pause.) Most evenings Sael carries the laminated poster of the martyred sisters from the kitchen to the encampment. There are exactly thirty now, I served with nine of them. But Pyra was my special friend. She drove her own turquoise Beetle, used mostly on shopping trips, she drove it into battle, and her little car is still there disappearing now into the sand. KEJAL:

Each of us carry a spare bullet, mine is under my vest, taped to my skin. This is for use only at the end, to evade capture. SARAH:

I am not like my sister. I do not believe in paradise. SHINE:

Tonight we will eat lamb and spicy rice, jeweled with peppers and onions. TRIFA:

We will sit around a spitting fire under the stars.

SHINE:

We will share our lives, our dreams.

98

KEJAL:

We will laugh, sing and yes linking arms we will even dance. SHINE:

I would rather this was my last night on Earth, free here with my sisters, than live a million nights shuffling along as some man’s living shroud. (A door opens. Light.) SHANAR:

I fight for the land because although it is scorched and empty it is home, just as you would fight back, if your home and family were attacked. POPPY:

So that’s it then?

TRIFA:

I fight to save the lives of my family.

KEJAL:

who despite years of separations and squabbles.

TRIFA:

I still love.

SHINE:

But mostly we fight to remain — unbelievably in 2015 – free women. SHANAR:

Free to show our faces to the world.

KEJAL:

to dress how we like.

SHINE:

marry who we love.

TRIFA:

work at whatever we want.

SHINE:

choose to have children, or not..

99

JOHN:

I…

POPPY:

It’s alright.

SHINE:

How can good men be free.

POPPY:

you can cry.

SHINE:

when women are not?

POPPY:

my friend.

SHINE:

So forgive me but I say.

SHANAR:

simply.

KEJAL:

and hopefully without too much drama.

SHINE:

we fight for all humanity.

GAIA / MEGAN / SERENA / BLESSING / BEN / NOON / ALIA / SHAZ / SARAH SCENE 6 – CAMBERWELL Projected on floor. Scene 6 Camberwell ‘It’s nice to be taken out of yourself.’ A living room in a bohemian and still handsome Georgian house on Camberwell New Road.

100

GAIA, ALIA

and BEN are standing.

is seated a little apart, she is holding a baby monitor. SERENA

SHAZ, MEGAN, SARAH

and

BLESSING

are seated informally,

closer together. is apart, sitting on the floor in a towelling robe. She has wet hair. She is painting her toenails. NOON

GAIA:

Alia, this is Megan, an esteemed actress, you might have seen her on the box in…well…gritty Scottish stuff. MEGAN:

I play nosey neighbours now, mostly, dear…

GAIA:

She was a Glaswegian Titania and she was fantastic. MEGAN:

I was a corpse recently, dug up in a wood – corpse of a nosey neighbour actually. GAIA:

This is Serena my sister.

SERENA:

I’m not an actress.

GAIA:

Blessing Qureshi – the one and only – she needs no introduction I’m sure. BLESSING:

I’ve heard a lot about you from their father my

dear.

101

GAIA:

Sarah, here, is an actress and filmmaker, we met online quite recently. (They scrutinise each other.) And…oh…this is Bill…everybody. BEN:

Ben.

GAIA: BEN:

Oh dear, sorry…

But you can call me Bob.

MEGAN: NOON:

Hallo.

What about me?

(Slight pause.) GAIA:

Oh, this is Noon. She is…dad’s…friend.

NOON: GAIA:

I want to be in your play.

Alia’s Syrian, half Syrian.

NOON:

I am a good actress. I have a lovely singing voice.

GAIA:

She was…do you mind me telling everybody

this… (Pause.) Oh sorry.

102

ALIA:

No, it’s alright.

GAIA:

She was arrested, and kept for four months in a cage. She was tortured by Assad’s thugs. MEGAN: GAIA:

Oh my.

They smashed her hands with stones.

BLESSING:

Quite a catch for us.

GAIA:

Sorry?

SHAZ:

And you’re a painter?

ALIA:

Well, an artist.

GAIA:

Alia created puppet shows at the very beginning of the revolution. NOON:

Oh! Yeah? Right.

GAIA:

Oh, what am I thinking… This is Shaz, she runs a Centre for women fleeing conflict. She has scores of women from Syria… Libya… MEGAN:

Can you still paint, dear? I mean people can do amazing things… ALIA:

No.

GAIA:

She finds stuff and she makes installations, she uses film and live performers.

103

BLESSING: GAIA:

And… Bob is…?

Alia’s friend.

(NOON laughs.) (Awkward pause.) GAIA:

She has fantastic ideas for the set…

ALIA:

Ben is…my saviour.

BEN:

No.

GAIA:

…sort of after an explosion, objects blasted against the walls. ALIA:

Own it, please. It will make you very popular with the ladies. Because…let’s face it…we all want to be saved. (Pause.) Not! (Uneasy laughter.) No, he…he got me out… I probably owe him my life. MEGAN:

And your poor hands. can they do anything?

ALIA:

Oh, indeed they can. I have been assessed just recently actually and passed suitable for an operation.

104

MEGAN:

Ah.

ALIA:

They have decided to amputate, and give me some nice new bionic English ones… Could you pass me a crisp, darling? (BEN does so – he puts it in her mouth.) (Awkward pause.) So you’re not using Arabic actresses? GAIA:

No. Well, yes, but not entirely.

ALIA:

Why?

GAIA:

I think… I think the themes are universal. I think it might rein in the piece. I want it to speak to everyone, but…you’re actually Syrian, Blessing spent half her life in Saudi, and Sarah and Shaz… NOON:

Can I be in it?

GAIA:

How can you be in it? You’ve never acted in a play in your life? SERENA: GAIA:

You want me in it.

I want to get you out of the house.

BLESSING:

Why can’t she be in it?

105

NOON: GAIA:

It’s very important I’m in it.

Noon – don’t you have shit to do?

NOON:

I’m doing shit.

GAIA:

Look, this is a professional production. Alia’s designing it, Megan’s in it. MEGAN:

Well, I haven’t absolutely said yes yet. I mean, it’s… wonderful, but… I don’t know, I’m not convinced if I can actually bring anything…to it. BEN:

’Cos you’re Scottish.

MEGAN: GAIA:

Yes.

What do you mean?

MEGAN:

No, no, I don’t know. I don’t know what I mean.

Pause. I suppose, I don’t know if, if I can bear it. GAIA:

Bear it?

NOON:

’Cos like it’s so miserable yeah…? All the poor lads having their heads chopped off. GAIA:

Oh, we’re not going to concentrate on that. I mean, this is about women, women and the Arab Revolution.

106

MEGAN:

Right.

(Pause.) ALIA:

Ben doesn’t believe the videos anyway, do you?

GAIA:

I’m sorry?

BEN:

I didn’t quite say that…

ALIA:

He thinks it’s a CIA plot to unite the Christian world against the greater Islamic foe… BEN:

A slightly outdated and sensational oversimplification there, in the analysis of my thinking, my sweet. ALIA:

We have had many a lively spat over our morning Americanos. I tell him, you are being imperialist again, darling, despite your Marxist roots. NOON: ALIA:

What’s Marxist roots?

We are quite capable of creating our own monsters.

(Through the monitor, we hear a baby crying.) SERENA: GAIA:

Excuse me…

Right on cue.

SERENA:

What?

107

GAIA:

Joking… Fuck me, what happened to your sense of humour? BLESSING: SARAH:

Dalston.

BLESSING: BEN:

Where are you from, Sarah?

I mean…

I did wonder with the first, if it was real.

GAIA:

Real?

BEN:

Because it didn’t look believable, you know, like the moon landing, it looked…phoney. GAIA: BEN:

But you think they are now?

Yes.

ALIA:

I see.

GAIA:

And the moon landing?

BEN:

Oh I’m not sure about that.

GAIA:

But the videos, you think are…?

BEN:

Yes, but I do think we are allowing ourselves to be manipulated…by the media, I do think it is all being… pumped up.

108

BLESSING:

Well. I don’t agree. I think in this instance actually there is a valiant attempt to play it down…to deflate it… In my humble opinion, we should get troops in, on the ground and summarily obliterate the bastards. Give me an AK47 and I’ll do it myself. (Pause.) GAIA:

I didn’t realise you had such decided views.

BLESSING:

I’ll go further. I think it might even be justified – to nuke them. GAIA:

You’re joking. She’s joking.

NOON:

She not joking.

ALIA:

You’ll kill thousands, maybe hundreds of thousand Syrians. (Slight pause.) BLESSING: GAIA:

See, see…

NOON: GAIA:

Mm. Well maybe not actually nuke them.

Oh dear…very bad…everyone getting cross…

Nobody’s getting cross.

NOON:

It will be a very angry play.

109

GAIA:

Who says it’s going to be a play?

MEGAN:

Oh, isn’t it…?

GAIA:

We don’t know yet, it might be testimonies and we just read them out. NOON: GAIA:

I’m a very good reader. I read good.

Blessing and I haven’t fully discussed it.

BLESSING:

What she means is, I’m a broadcaster, really… a journalist. GAIA:

She wrote that fabulous book about the Nigerian

girls. Pause. BLESSING:

(To SARAH.) Where are you from again?

GAIA:

Sarah has had so many adventures herself, and has so much to share with us… BLESSING: GAIA:

Another catch.

What’s with this catch thing?

(SERENA enters quietly, takes up her position in the corner.) Is he alright?

110

SERENA:

Yes…he’s gone back off. He’s a bit hot.

MEGAN:

How old is he?

SERENA:

Just three months.

MEGAN:

Is he your first?

(Pause.) SERENA:

No.

(Pause.) ALIA:

(To SHAZ.) I’m sorry… I’m not sure what your involvement is…? GAIA:

We facilitate workshops together at the Centre.

BLESSING:

She can speak for herself my dear.

SHAZ:

Drama workshops, using their stories, devising and performing. ALIA:

And they’re…useful?

SHAZ:

Very.

ALIA:

So why don’t you cast the piece from these women? GAIA:

Oh, no.

SERENA:

Why? 111

GAIA: BEN:

Because they don’t have the skills.

Couldn’t they be taught?

NOON:

They’re all sad innit, ’cos they’re refugees… In a play, you have to be happy and smile and entertain people. (Phone rings.) SARAH: GAIA:

Oh excuse me, it’s my daughter, may I…

I suppose so.

(She takes the wine bottle and starts filling glasses.) SARAH:

(Speaking quietly.) You might need to gargle, you know, with salt water… (Slight pause.) No you can buy it, you can buy table salt in shops… Look…yes… I’m in a meeting. I’ll call you in half an hour. (Pause.) That’s my daughter, Ru’yah. She’s singing in a concert, it’s a college thing, but a solo performance and at the Albert Hall. She has a cold. GAIA:

Perhaps she can sing in our piece.

112

NOON: GAIA:

You said no one could sing.

I said you can’t sing.

NOON:

That’s very rude.

GAIA:

Look, Dad’ll be back in half an hour. He’ll expect you all…you know…finished. BLESSING:

Where is he?

GAIA:

His exhibition opens in the Vaults tomorrow. There’s a function tonight. NOON:

He’s taking me. I bought a smashing new dress, bag and shoes and nothing matches, deliberately. I’m going to look beautiful. He’s a very lucky old gentleman. (BLESSING laughs.) (The baby starts crying, heard on the monitor.) SERENA:

(Gets up and leaves.) Excuse me.

ALIA:

Actually I double booked today. We have to go, I’m sorry I was late, I’ll.… GAIA:

Oh please no, there’s so much we need to talk about tonight. SHAZ:

(Standing.) And I’m not really sure how I can

help?

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GAIA:

We need to hear the stories of the women. I mean you provide us with immediate access to direct experience. BLESSING: GAIA:

She’s a catch as well.

Oh, for Christ’s sake.

BLESSING:

I need to go soon too, but I’ll come back tomorrow when Tom’s here. Tell him I’m not the least bit offended he didn’t invite me to his exhibition. Did you hear me, Noon? NOON: BEN:

I will tell him you not offended.

Can we give anyone a lift?

SARAH:

I don’t know if you go anywhere near South Kensington? GAIA:

Oh Sarah not you too – there’s so much I want you to share with us tonight. SHAZ:

You know I’m not sure if a lot of my women are ready to open up about their experiences. NOON:

’Cos they’re fed up innit – they need cheering up.

MEGAN: GAIA:

That’s right.

Well we can do that, we can arrange…trips.

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NOON:

Is Mamma Mia still on? That was big fun. I saw that with my cousin’s family, and like my aunty was dying from pancreatic cancer, she got two weeks to live and she was walking with a frame with tubes up her nose and she was like chuckling away. (BEN is holding the dregs of a wine glass to ALIA.) You getting married, yeah? (Pause.) ALIA:

Ben is already married.

NOON:

Oh.

ALIA:

(Smiling pleasantly.) – with three strapping sons, the youngest only seven, so he has no plans to divorce, I hope. (Pause.) MEGAN: BEN:

What do you do, Ben?

I lecture in political science at LSE.

ALIA:

He’s thinking of leaving his job, aren’t you? He’s joining the Labour Party. MEGAN: ALIA:

Oh.

He hopes to stand for Parliament quite soon.

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MEGAN:

Really?

ALIA:

He’s quite perverse. Aren’t you, darling? He always does the exact opposite to everyone else, so…just when everyone’s leaving, after thirty years slagging them off, Ben decides to join. MEGAN:

What do you want to do that for?

(Slight pause.) BEN:

I want to represent the views of ordinary working men… (Slight pause. Laughter.) and women. (More laughter.) NOON:

You’re a very good man, to stay with her, yeah, even though she got no hands. I will vote for you. (SERENA enters holding the baby, who is still crying.) SERENA:

I can’t… I can’t get him to stop… Nothing’s

working. GAIA:

(Taking the baby.) It’s too hot in that room. I told

you. (Standing, she jiggles the baby, walking, trying different positions.)

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SARAH: GAIA:

If it’s not a play, what would you call it?

It’s probably going to be a play.

BLESSING: NOON: GAIA:

Oh.

Blessing doesn’t want to write a play.

Oh?

BLESSING:

I’m sorry?

NOON:

You said you didn’t want to write some fundamentalist feminist shit play. BLESSING:

Oh for goodness’ sake. I don’t want the piece to be hijacked by one issue that’s all. SHAZ:

I think the issues at stake are bigger really than feminism. BLESSING:

(Taking the baby.) Here, let me try…

(She walks about, jiggling baby.) Poor baba, you got a bad tummy yeah? You check his nappy? SERENA: NOON:

Yes.

He’s hungry.

SERENA:

He’s not hungry. I just fed him.

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SHAZ:

The word ‘feminism’, means nothing actually to women with starving babies fleeing for their life. GAIA:

I’m sorry but that is a cheap shot.

SHAZ:

What do you mean?

GAIA:

Just because we’re in a crisis doesn’t mean you can’t discuss ideologies or create art that wants to change perceptions. NOON:

I want to change perceptions. Yeah. English people think Thai ladies only say – ‘Yes Mr Bond…’ ‘Thank you Mr Bond…’ SHAZ:

I don’t know if feminism means anything to my women at all. GAIA:

Well if it doesn’t it is our duty to change that. They need to know there is another way and there is international support out there. SARAH:

May I take him please?

Is he cold in here? BLESSING:

His feet are cold.

NOON:

Also Blessing said if it was feminist the critics would give it a morlin. I don’t know what it is – a morlin.

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BLESSING:

Excuse me but where were you when I was saying all this? NOON:

In the pantry.

BLESSING:

This totally contradicts pre-conceptions that all Chinese people are sneaky. NOON:

I ain’t Chinese.

BLESSING:

I mean isn’t issue-led drama a bit passe?

GAIA:

Oh I do beg your pardon. I tell you what, let’s do ‘No No, Nannette’. NOON: GAIA:

What?

NOON: GAIA:

Will there be dancing?

In the play?

No.

BLESSING:

That’s a lovely idea. Arabic dancing is so

vital. NOON:

Yes. Thank you Blessing. I’ve very many lovely

ideas. ALIA:

Is there any point in making a play about women and the Arab Revolution that isn’t Feminist? GAIA:

Exactly!

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BEN:

What is Feminism?

ALIA:

Oh please we’re just going, it’s too late to be cute!

NOON:

It means men are better than women.

(Pause.) GAIA:

What?

NOON:

No, I mean the other way round.

BEN:

Well I agree with Blessing I don’t like anything that has to ram stuff up my throat ALIA:

No, but you quite like ramming stuff up my throat.

MEGAN:

Oh please, please…! Please…!

(She takes the baby, she rocks it, gradually it stops crying.) MEGAN:

(Whispering.) I don’t want to be the…play…or whatever it is. I’m really very sorry.

in

(Pause.) GAIA:

Why?

NOON:

She can’t bear it.

MEGAN:

That’s right. You’ve hit the nail. That is exactly

right.

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My nerves are jangled with it all. If it’s in the newspapers I turn the page, or the TV, I jump up quickly and turn it off. Two little boys, skinny, scruffy little things, about nine and ten, that’s all, were talking about the videos on the bus – can you imagine – they had watched them. I thought I would faint, or scream, I started to sweat, my head was banging, my heart was beating so fast, I wanted to run off the bus. It’s too awful, don’t you see, all of it, the ghastly beheadings, flayings… I can hardly believe it…crucifixions. We thought Vietnam was terrible, or the Nazis, or… I don’t know Kosovo, but no, no, I am seventy-three years old and I never thought I would live through this…all those poor terrified young men, kneeling, waiting…waiting… all they did was try and help, they are kind, good souls trying to make things better, and what about the parents, the poor parents, watching, waiting, how can they bear it, how can they bear, the world watching, how can they? And what about before, the young fruit seller who gave apples to poor children and who set himself alight. The women in the squares who were stripped and flogged and tortured. All the tots choked in the chemical attacks. All that suffering…terrible terrible suffering. I blame Blair, I do, I blame him and I blame myself because I believed him, not Bush but I believed Blair, and I voted for him, because I thought he would save us from the posh English boys, who think they have a right to run everything, and he lied to us, or misled us, or misunderstood, did he… I don’t know which – and he 121

killed all those babies, all those innocents, a hundred thousand and now their brothers and sisters have grown up and they’ve come to get us, and can we blame them, really…? Can we, can we…? (Pause.) MEGAN

is still. so is everybody. the baby is very still.

SERENA:

(Softly, to baby.) Billy…

(Pause, long pause.) Billy. (She stands, but frozen. MEGAN looks down at the baby. She starts to jiggle the baby, no sound.) Oh, no, no, please (GAIA moves in, grabs the baby, who immediately starts to cry.) (She hands him back to SERENA.) Pause. GAIA:

(Softly.) So what’s to be done? We can’t do nothing. We have to try don’t we? SARAH:

Yes of course we must try. We must try to imagine something better.

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PLAY THREE THE SINGING STONES Written by Kay Adshead In the day the crowd – which is thousands scream wave their placards sway push forward, try to stay on their feet try not to trample each other, pull out 123

the fallen from under the slow rolling tanks. In the night, in the darkness, in tents under blankets, some of the crowd stay, to be together, to wait for morning, to wait for change, some

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even try to sleep. But one woman stands, she stands in the night and she sings, her voice very clear across The Square the Museum, the Walled Garden, and the fine colonnaded government buildings. Her song

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reaches right out to the sky, to the three quarter moon. The soldiers are amazed, confused, confounded! They mutter amongst themselves. No one knows what is the correct action to take. So they wait

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for their superior officer, who arrives from his bed without socks his hair stuck up at the back of his head. He listens. He cannot believe his ears. He is outraged! He screams at The Singing Woman

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‘Stop or you’ll be shot!’ And the sleepers wake, and come out of their tents, circling the soldiers and their superior officer, until herded at rifle point. But though she pauses sometimes,

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The Singing Woman, to swallow, to find the words, she won’t stop, – even staring down the barrel of a rifle, she won’t stop singing. She sings louder, even sadder, sucking in the black air to push out her ribs, push out

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against the rifle poking soldiers, riding the tanks, push out against the bruise black night. Her song flutters like long white bandages in a breeze over the square, or as mothers’ arms reaching out over the darkness. ‘She is a strong singer,

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this little girl’, says the old grocer – who had finally had enough, and who tried to sleep, curled up like a dog against stones. ‘A good pair of lungs, even though she kept me awake,

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it was too sweet to sleep through, this girl’s song too sweetly sad.’ The superior officer whispers his orders. – Thwack!! The butt of a rifle sharply jabbed into the front of her neck. Thwack! her throat –

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Thwack! her jaw. She chokes. Crack! a thin bone – broken somewhere. And so she stops singing and red blood gushes from her swelling open mouth as from a fountain. They drag

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The Singing Woman through the square, her heels burn blood into the stone. She is thrown into the back of an army truck, black blood now staining her top, dripping onto her shoes. The risen hammer

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with their fists on the side of the vanishing truck. It’s morning. ‘Up – ! Come out! Up you come’ Her lips are swollen and bruised. The sides of her throat almost fused together.

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She can’t swallow. She breathes through her nose. She is marched in chains. A fat key turns in a lock. ‘Your name?’ she can’t speak ‘Your name!’ She points to her throat and gurgles, – making blood bubbles, the soldier chuckles. ‘Well at least

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you won’t keep your guards awake. It’s night. She has dozed, propped up in her cell, dreaming of being a little girl, losing the last piece of a favourite jigsaw puzzle. She wakes to footsteps, and the grind

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of the metal shutter, sliding open… pushed through a tray of slop. She can’t eat, but she knows she must drink. She pours a little water through a slit in her stuck together lips. It stings like hell! ‘You were singing?’ She is being questioned.

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The starch in his shirt crackles as he lifts his arm to scratch his arse. ‘Why?’ She can’t reply. ‘Singing? in the public Square?’ The room is dark. The light bulb hanging on a dusty cord long blown. And he can’t

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see the flash in her eyes. ‘Singing at night!? Why?’ She can’t reply. He finds this silent woman alluring! She has a black band bruise round her throat like a dog collar. Her swollen lips are blue black too

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‘Don’t you know a woman singing at night in a public place alone Is tantamount to nakedness her nakedness! To walking naked amongst men? What do you say to that?’ He knows she can’t reply ‘And worse, now, –

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foolish women place stones in the tracks of your heels!’ He doesn’t know she is trying to make a ball of saliva to spit in his eye. ‘Your fame is shameful, shameful! There’s no precedent

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I don’t know what to do with you the first singing woman, but’ He scratches his arse again. ‘Given your… graceful demeanor I’m inclined to mercy.’ She tries to scrape spit from the back

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of her throat with her tongue. ‘And we must spare the lash, at least for now, given your condition. Anyhow – You won’t sing again.’ As she’s led to the door.. ‘I’ll sanction a small

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cup of milk each day’ She can’t spit. Her dried out battered mouth has saved her child’s life..! ‘I’m a granddad you see’ He scratches his arse for the third time

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and smiles at the alluring silent woman. ‘They’ll tell you I’m an old softee.’ At night the growing baby speaks ‘Where’s my father?’ ‘Taken, in the first days vanished!’ ‘Dead?’ ‘No! No! If he was

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dead the sun would fall out of the sky and the earth would vomit rocks from the sea.’ This is her first baby. She imagines it’s a girl. ‘I’m glad he’s not dead’

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The baby says ‘I want to sit on his knee, pat his prickly face and count his eye lashes.’ Every day the silent woman drinks the cup of milk. Her interrogator steals a straw from the

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military canteen, sometimes he passes and demands to watch her drink. It is warm milk almost on the turn. It clags her throat, making bloody gobs of mucus, so that she coughs or

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swallows. She still can’t spit or speak. The milk makes her feel sick but she drinks it for the child. ‘I’m going to be big big and strong.’ Now the

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child’s a boy ‘I’m going to learn to fight’ she shakes her head and trembles ‘to shoot.’ On the ground floor of the Museum in a modest annex sipping best Columbian

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coffee and lilac macaroons an intimate party discuss the demise of the very latest Presidenté, there’s been a few. ‘Of course. now the latest old shit’s gone.’

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Down a hole, in a drain, on a stretcher, babbling in an old folk’s home on a leaky boat on the Dead Sea somewhere. ‘What’s next?’ The world holds its breath and keeps its fingers crossed.

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It can’t get worse. In the cobwebby eves of the Museum, he keeps the Singing Woman comfortably secret. The room’s Dark, the light still swings

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dead and dusty from its orange cord. He sees her softened in shadow as if an artist had smudged the lines of the drawing with a wet finger. She avoids his eye, knowing a bright glance from her

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might kill the child. He feeds her mashed fruit on a spoon Her belly’s swelled. She’s sixteen weeks. The black band round her neck is purple now, purple and green. A necklace of grapes amethyst and emerald. He secretly loves her!

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That’s the gossip – despite his clever oncologist wife, and his half French TV researcher mistress. She’s famous now. The Singing Woman! Vanished from the streets. Dragged by the soldiers from the square where wailing women placed stones in the tracks from her skinned heels.

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Foreign journalists in denim shirts pilgrimage to that spot. Articles are written about her in newspapers, in Marie Claire. Everyone on the street claims they knew her, knows her… The old grocer speaking into the camera says she could easily have become

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a recording artist. She’s A Heroine of The Revolution. A Vanished Heroine. Friendly rumours say the child is the ex-interrogator general’s. He protests, laughs.. promises a D.N.A test when the babe is born, a true child of

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The Revolution he says! Born into a changing world. The Interrogator General loves to talk to The Silent Woman about his Ambitions ‘There is no future in the army, who the people grow to hate, to fear.’

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He whispers. ‘Whilst I’ve made no friends I’ve made less enemies than most. I’ll put my name forward for the so called Spring Elections in a year.’ The Secret, Silent – Woman notices he’s started to dye his

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hair soot black! The Silent Woman sits in front of the tiny black painted arched eve window. She tried to scratch a patch the size of an old coin with a fingernail so she could see the street, The Square

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the sun, but The Interrogator General discovered it and cried real tears at her betrayal, before slapping her hard. (Baby’s voice.) ‘Where’s your husband? Is he tortured Is he broken Is he shot?’ ‘Yes’ she says ‘Yes

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Probably.’ This evening the child isn’t a boy or girl but a fairy with hoof feet gills and a purr. ‘I will never shoot’ ‘I will never kill’ The Silent Woman stops breathing ‘What if they ask you too?’ ‘I will…

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I will.. refuse.’ The Silent Woman is thirty-two weeks expectant. She can sometimes hear the rumble of crowd in The Square. Sometimes, secretly in the soot black dark, she tries

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to hum. The ExInterrogator General launches his pre-election campaign with a posh drinks and dinner in The Museum’s Antiquities Salon ‘What a coup! What a coup! For the snake-brained

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silk tongued arse scratching shit wheeling dealing soot haired old dog.’ His best and closest friends whisper. At the far end of the room by the glass cabinet containing the earliest hair combs and wigs,

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the Presidential Candidate’s wife in a blue cashmere pashmina talks medical advances in pancreatic cancer to a top American radiologist. ‘She’ll bring in popular support The Singing Woman especially if he claims he saved her.’ To the right, his young

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French mistress, talks 1960’s Argentinean Cinematography to someone in braces. The Silent Woman is seated, dressed in red lace and jet. ‘How do They know she’s the real singing woman where’s the proof?’ Asks a thin-lipped snake hipped

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beauty in sweaty P.V.C ‘There’s an old grocer here who swears it’s her. He saw it all that night. He took pictures He recorded her singing on his mobile phone.’

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After dinner they clear the table of bird bones, frosty meringue mountains, lychees, and chef massaged ox heart, and move the antiquitous gold chairs to circle The Red Lace

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Woman. She is huge, expectant and still silent. The Presidential Candidate’s wife smiles encouragement at her, before standing… clearing her throat. ‘Almost exactly nine months ago,

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my husband came home in tears, with a tale of a beautiful and pure young woman brutally assaulted by the old regime for singing, singing in the public square. Married only a

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month her young husband had vanished after attending a peaceful, peoples’, protest in The Square.’ The appeasing crowd tut tut ‘This brave

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young woman, This pure young woman kept vigil at the spot her husband disappeared and sang. She sang simply, and she touched people’s hearts. She touched your heart.’ The crowd coo and

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sigh. ‘Rendered voiceless by a mad dog soldier’s vicious rifle butt she was fortuitously brought before my husband who discovering she was expecting her husband’s child, and recognizing her innocent goodness, ordered

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milk for her to drink and removed her from the dark cell, into the sanctuary of these esteemed walls, where now tonight…, for the first time since her capture, to demonstrate

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her gratitude for my husband’s kindness and to publicly register support for his Presidential Campaign and his only, she will sing AGAIN!’ Gasps in the

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great hall and claps. The old Grocer takes out his mobile phone and snippy snaps. And so she stands. A cello plays something gloopy, a tinkly piano tries to bring

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her in twice! She opens her mouth sucking in the dusty old air to push out her ribs against The Fortress. Until! Until ! A belch, then

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silence. The Ex General looks around. His face goes red. He tries to think of something funny to say. And she laughs, her eyes bright lights, she licks her lips and

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again she sucks and pushes.. pushes.. into a gassy gulp, before Bending double, clutching her stomach over a wet patch on the floor. ‘She, she’s.. having the child,’ someone appalled whispers. Far

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back, the Ex Interrogator General’s wife curls her lip. How could the fat bitch be so ungrateful? His mistress can’t help laughing. He watches calmly a politician now trying to make

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the best of it. ‘See, See how the child of The Revolution chose to be born. Here at the very launch of my political career.’ The Silent Woman ROARS! so loud

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she shatters The Museum’s Great Glass Dome, dignitaries dodge the shining, raining shards. Hauling up her dress she strains and squats and

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screams, till a beautiful baby girl, gurgles and drops alive and heavy as a stone. And too from her womb fly

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song birds, fluttering and twittering, who soar through the cracked dome roof back to The Square, back to The People, where they blot out the sky with song.

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There has been some suggestion this tale is legend only, that is to say, not true. However the old grocer, luckily caught the entire unlikely proceedings on his mobile phone, and images

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of birth, disgruntled dignitaries and a million birds are actually available to download. The wannabee President was defeated in the election by more than a million votes, by an even sootier haired rival,

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divorced his wife, went to live in Argentina where he bought a new face, acted badly in films playing tyrants and various old farts. The Silent Woman sang again sweetly and sadly, and sometimes joyfully, but only

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In The Square for The People, with her baby in her arms or by her side. (Najma’s song – which ALIA stops) And The Singing Women’s baby girl grows up the darling of the Squares, adept at philosophical debate almost

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from the moment she can talk. And a precocious expert in the detailed analysis of current complex political affairs. Her public oratory too attracts plaudits.

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Her passion, sincerity and honesty, her gift for clear thinking and plain speaking earning her worldwide respect. As she grows she sees five other Presidentés come and go. Until

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at eighteen she forms her Free State Party with a leader’s working board of eight women and one man. Today just two hours ago finally, after years of struggle, she won the Presidential

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election. (Najma’s song – softly) And in her short victory speech at the very end she whispered clear eyed and without a break in her voice (Najma’s song louder) ‘The world has waited a long time for this

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moment’ No one knows what happened to the grocer. THE END.

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